Agile made it into the top ten software skills for contractors in November - and has stayed there. The methodology remains the domain of the IT freelancer and confirms the contractor’s pole position at the bleeding edge of tech. Contractors with product specialism in Oracle and SAP are also busier as these skills saw a respective 7% and 5% hike in demand in January.

Agile methods enable a swifter, more iterative approach to software development that is well suited to austere times. “Probably the most noticeable change to software process thinking in the last few years has been the appearance of the word 'agile’”, confirms Martin Fowler, independent software design consultant.

More companies are embracing the agile philosophy and methods because they offer an alternative to the bureaucracy and heavy documentation of earlier methodologies. But there aren’t that many people out there with ‘true’ skills, comments Richard Nott, web director of CWJobs. "Contractors are meeting demand best because they invest more in acquiring cutting edge skills".

Nott urges contractors heading into agile territory to remember to burnish complementary soft skills and to offer knowledge transfer, too. "It’s not only about tech skills in the agile space. This method is about corralling the skills of the development team and using these to serve the business."

Meanwhile, product specialism in contractors remains a favourite with employers who lack deep knowledge in-house. Typically, companies have a need for deep skills over a limited timeframe, maybe the duration of a 6-12 months project, and contractors can best plug these gaps.

Agile - what’s the difference?

• Agile methods are adaptive rather than predictive. Engineering methods tend to try to plan out a large part of the software process in great detail for a long span of time, this works well until things change. So their nature is to resist change. The agile methods, however, welcome change. They try to be processes that adapt and thrive on change, even to the point of changing themselves.

• Agile methods are people-oriented rather than process-oriented. The goal of engineering methods is to define a process that will work well whoever happens to be using it. Agile methods assert that no process will ever make up the skill of the development team, so the role of a process is to support the development team in their work.

Martin Fowler, independent software design consultant.

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